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Commission adopts 2008 budget

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West Fargo City Commissioners approved their final budget for the 2008 calendar year Monday night with total expenditures at $25,712,743, an increase of $1,644,061 setting the mill levy at 88.48, a decrease of -0.26 over last year's figure of 88.74.

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Proposed expenditures for various funds include: $6,842,322 General, $1,630,112 Sanitation, Sewer and Water $3,048,439, Library $562,283, Airport $141,196, Debt Service $11,093,259, Capital Improvements $500,000, and Special Revenue $1,895,132.

The numbers include a 2.5 percent cost of living increase for each city employee plus a step increase equating to another 2.5 percent; funding for an additional school resource officer, a full-time court prosecutor and $20,000 in the non-departmental budget for the Healthy Communities Initiative.

City Administrator Jim Brownlee said this means no property tax increase for residents from the City's share of taxes unless the valuation of their home goes up.

He noted that this year's budget didn't contain additional dollars for new staffing, adding that would more than likely not be the case with the 2009 budget, given the city's ongoing growth.

Commissioners extended thanks to Brownlee and the various department heads for their diligence in formulating budget figures.

Mayor Rich Mattern said "We've always done a good job of spending the people's money. This is a very good budget considering the growth we've had."

Commissioners also made an increase in water rates the first of the year official, with their passage of second and final reading of an ordinance change.

The current minimum service charge of $7 for the first 2,000 gallons of water used will remain the same; while the rate for additional water usage over the 2,000 gallon base amount will be seeing an increase, going from $3.50 to $4 per 1,000 gallons of water used on Jan. 1, 2008; and up again Jan. 1, 2009 from $4 to $4.50 per 1,000 gallons of water used over the 2,000 amount.

This will mean an approximate 9 percent increase for the average residence that uses 15,000-16,000 gallons of water monthly, i.e. a $6.50 increase on their overall monthly utility statement. Those that use under the minimum amount will see no increase at all. The sanitation rates will not be affected in any way and will remain the same.

The increase will generate approximately $750,000 in revenues that will be used to cover new debt service payments for revenue bonds used to fund replacement of the city's sanitary lift stations.

Mayor Mattern shared utility rate information with fellow commissioners for the Midwest region including the states of North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota, Montana and Wyoming, that showed West Fargo has the fourth lowest rates of approximately 80 communities surveyed, based on 7,500 gallons of water usage a month, with the exception of storm water. Sidney, Mont. was lowest at $18.08. Evanston, Wyo., second at $33.34, Willmar, Minn., third at $35.09, and West Fargo next at $35.25. "We're realistically still on the low end of the survey, and that's good," Mattern commented.

Under the consent agenda, Commissioners also voted to approve a cost participation and maintenance agreement with the North Dakota Department of Transportation (NDDOT) for the West Fargo 9th Street (Fargo 57th Street) and I-94 Interchange project. Under the plan, the City will pay approximately $6.6 million of the total $12.4 million project costs; Fargo's share will be $2.3 million; and the DOT's $3.4 million.

The overpass construction has been set for next year, while the NDDOT has now estimated the year 2012 for the ramps because of the funding situation.

On a related note, the Commission approved a motion to proceed with a letter to the North Dakota Department of Transportation asking that the ramps on the 9th Street Interchange be constructed at the same time the overpass goes in. "We would like to see the ramps go in at the same time as the bridge," Mayor Mattern said. He noted that he had been in contact with Fargo Mayor Dennis Walaker and he is of the same consensus. "Maybe they (NDDOT) can come up with some money," Mattern added. "It doesn't make any economic sense to come back in and put the ramps in later. Nobody is going to build there without the ramps. You're not going to collect sales tax on an empty piece of dirt."

Mattern said the letter would also be sent to other officials, including the Governor and members of the North Dakota congressional group.

In other action, the Commission approved the addition of three blocks to the existing Renaissance Zone as allowed by the 2006 North Dakota State Legislature, allowing the inclusion of up to three blocks that are non-contiguous with the existing zone as long as they are within a half mile of the present Renaissance Zone. Business Development Director Dorinda Anderson said that letters were sent to four blocks that were under consideration and responses were requested from interested property owners.

The Zone Authority ultimately met and recommended the inclusion of the south of Main Avenue (Geller Second Addition) from 12th Street East to 17th Street East; the south side of Main Avenue from 17th Street East to 45th Street East; and the west side of Center Street and east of Armour from 8th Avenue to 12th Avenue.

Anderson said that there are businesses in these areas looking to proceed with activity. She said that being a part of the Renassaisance Zone program is voluntary, but a certain amount of encouragement is provided. She said one of the biggest pluses is the income tax credit saving realized by businesses participating.

Anderson said a prime example of how the program has benefited the community is all the change on Sheyenne Street. Mayor Mattern agreed. "To see how successful this program is take a look at Sheyenne Street. It's been a great program."

The recommendations for the additional blocks requested will now be forwarded to state officials for their consideration and final action.

The next regularly scheduled meeting of the West Fargo City Commission will take place at 5:30 p.m., Monday, Oct. 15, in the Commission Chambers at West Fargo City Hall. All meetings are open to the public.

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